There’s Nothing “Hypo” About It

Four or five weeks ago a wave of hypomania hit me so abruptly I felt like I was suddenly caught in the midst of a hurricane. It was in fact the beginning of a mixed episode more intense than any I had ever experienced before. I had read and heard that bipolar disorder has a tendency to get worse with age, that for some people each episode implies that each concurrent episode may be more severe than the last. And so, I had experienced with bipolar depression, but never with the flip side.

I was feeling so angry, irritable, and upset. There were some situational things going on in my life that would explain being upset, but that couldn’t explain my desire to put my hand through the wall. After a few days of feeling progressively worse, I realized that it was more than situational. I was furious all the time and the only thing getting me through the day was a particular fantasy. When I started to feel my anger spiraling out of control to the point of feeling violent, I would imagine myself holding a sledgehammer, walking through various buildings, and breaking everything in site. It was a very therapeutic fantasy and it got me through the most difficult periods.

My nurse psychiatrist put me on trileptal at first, but that almost immediately may be significantly worse. Within twenty-four hours I felt maniacal and didn’t take more than two doses. During the several days without medication while I was struggling with this furious anger and maniacal energy, one day I got up, put on my sneakers and went for a run. If you know me, you know that this is completely out of character. I think the last time I was able to run more than ten feet was at the age of sixteen. So this in and of itself gives you some idea of what it’s been like. At the end of that first run, I finally felt normal again for the first time since the whole thing began. I’ve been running a few times a week since then. It’s the only thing that pretty reliably makes me feel normal.

The sledgehammer fantasy led to the idea to go the batting cages, which is something else that my husband and I have been doing about once a week since this whole thing started too. It’s been very therapeutic to just get all my energy and aggression out. It’s also been a way for my husband to help and support me through this process.

Incidentally, hypomania is an eminently misleading name for this phenomena. Mania is a much more fitting term, though I appreciate that there is a big difference between mania and hypomania. The prefix “hypo-” makes hypomania seem so much quieter, calmer, less disruptive than it is in reality. I wish there was a better name for it. I really like the descriptor maniacal, although that really makes me sound crazy, doesn’t it? I mean, it feels pretty crazy in the moment.

My nurse psychiatrist switched me to lithium now, which I’m not thrilled about. It makes me really tired and I think it turning the hypomania into depression, which I don’t think I prefer. Honestly, I’d rather not be on any medication and just run off the energy. But the reason I went on the medication in the first place was because of the violent anger, because of feeling like I wanted to put my hand through the wall all of the time. That was not a good feeling at all. So, it’s an evolving situation. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I hope you are well.

Fighting Grief and Depression

One of the worst things about mental illness is that when things go wrong in your life – typical, regular, normal things – it’s difficult to figure out if you’re feeling shitty because of the thingor because of your mental illness.

Take my situation for example:

  1. I have been diagnosed with rapid cycling depressive bipolar disorder II. Translation: I’m depressed and angry and irritable, a lot.
  2. I also have varying degrees of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, depending on the day. Translation: Sometimes I can’t go outside, or do things for myself because I’m scared of invisible ninjas.
  3. I’m also married, have a job, extended family, in-laws, a pet, a house, bills, taxes, other health issues, etc. Translation: I’m a person.
  4. Specifically, I have a husband in the Air Force who moves us around a bit. In the last year I’ve moved away from all of my family and friends. In the last month, I had my gallbladder removed. My husband and I would like a family, but for right now can’t have it. And for the last three weeks, I’ve been experiencing increasing levels of unexplained pain on the left side of my abdomen, which has required one visit to the ER, a CT, x-rays, an ultrasound, two rounds of blood work, six different prescriptions, and a bajillion doctors. And still, no one knows what’s wrong with me. Translation: I’m a person with a number of issues.

I went to a new psychiatrist last week. (Because on top of all of the above issues, it turns out that Tucson has a serious lack of behavioral health care providers and it has taken me this long to find a psychiatrist.)

I was sitting there telling her about all of the issues I’ve been dealing with in the last year and in particular in the last month. She pointed out that I have been going through quite a lot at the moment. (Hello, Captain Obvious.) She pointed out that in all likelihood, my depression is more situational than biological. Or at the very least, the situational stress is making my biological stress much worse.

You know what sucks about that? If you have had this experience, then you know the answer.

Medications won’t fix it. I can take something to help me sleep. I can take something to calm my anxiety. But there is nothing I can take to lift the grief, sadness, and frustration of these normal, every day challenges with which life is presenting me. I just have to go through it, one day at a time.

Which really, isn’t all that different from living with mental illness.

5 Tips for Fighting Grief and Depression
  1. Give yourself a massive break. If it can’t be medicated, meditated, or exercised away, then you absolutely have to stay in bed, sit on the couch, cry, eat chocolate, watch TV, write about it, and read books until you start to feel the will to go outside again.
  2. Your pain, grief, frustration, sadness, and depression will eventually lift. You will not feel this way forever. If you need a daily reminder of that fact, write it on your bathroom mirror or the back of your hand, so you won’t forget.
  3. Talk to people who have been where you are, or at least, some version of it. If you’re experiencing infertility, don’t call up your friend who got pregnant while on birth control, twice. If you don’t know anyone who is going through what you’re going through, look online for chat rooms or support groups in your area. There are chat rooms and support groups for everything.
  4. Make a list of the things that you have enjoyed doing in the past and set a goal to try one of them as often as you can. Whether that’s once a day, once a week, or even once a month. You won’t know when you’re feeling better unless you try to do the things that you used to love doing.
  5. Give yourself a massive break. Yes, I said this one already, but it seriously bears repeating. I have been feeling guilty for my ongoing pain. It feels like one thing after another, and I know that my husband is feeling caretaker fatigue over the last month of ER visits, my hospital stay, doctor’s appointments, prescription pick ups, and coming home to a lump instead of a wife. But none of this is my fault and what you’re going through isn’t yours either. Let yourself off the hook.